When searching for reasons for the Browns' 0-4 start, a good place to begin is Florida.
That's where it's assumed cornerback Joe Haden has been the last few weeks while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. It's kind of hard to stick with A.J. Green when you've backpedaled in coverage about 1,500 miles south.
Coach Pat Shurmur was asked at his press conference last Friday - the day after a 23-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens - if he felt betrayed by Haden. It was a direct question that needed to be asked when considering that Haden didn't have his teammates in mind when he took the prescription drug Adderall without supplying a physician's approval to the league office.
"Betrayed?" Shurmur said. "No. No. Joe could've gone out and sprained his ankle. I'm not betrayed. We deal with the cards we're dealt and you go play. That's our little world here, and that's how we handle it."
The injury analogy doesn't work. There's a big difference between a player getting hurt during the course of a game and not playing at all because of an ill-advised act (I'm being kind here) that kept him off the field.
No player has control over injuries. One bad step in practice can sprain an ankle. Baryon Edwards once injured a foot when Donte Stallworth stepped on it as both ran sprints after a practice.
Haden has control over his life away from the field, with some exceptions. He didn't have to take the Adderall, which is used by people with attention deficit disorder (ADD). If he had a viable reason, all he had to do was inform the league.
To his credit, Haden, knowing of the impending suspension, apologized to his teammates shortly after the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. He then headed to parts unknown, where the closest seat to a Browns game is a few feet away from a high-definition television.
At least Haden had a vividly-clear picture of Green beating cornerback Dimitri Patterson for a touchdown in the Cincinnati Bengals' 34-27 win Sept. 16. Watching Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin run circles around Patterson must have played out like a mini-series in Haden's family room.
Patterson was forced to move outside from his nickel position to cover the opponent's top receiver in Haden's absence. As a consequence, second-year player Buster Skrine has had his playing time increased as the nickel back. Skrine has decent potential, but too much is being asked of him in the shuffling of positions.
It won't get easier Sunday when the Browns go on the road to play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been putting up big numbers with the help of explosive receivers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon.
Look for Patterson to give Cruz enough cushion for him to easily run slants, quick outs and screens. When Patterson does go into press coverage, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron better have safety help over top.
Patterson shouldn't be singled out for blame. He's a good nickel back, which in many ways is a more difficult position to play than outside, but he doesn't have the size and strength needed to jam big receivers on the perimeter.
It's rare to think that the absence of a cornerback might cost a team a win or two. That usually only happens when a quarterback goes down and there's no capable backup on the roster.
In this case it can be said that the loss of Haden has led to at least one loss and perhaps a second. Haden certainly would not have allowed Boldin to catch nine passes for 131 yards last Thursday, and he might have prevented Green from hauling in seven passes for 58 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception.
They say the beaches in Florida aren't crowded this time of the year. Hopefully, Haden can enjoy all the delights of southern living while his teammates deal with the reality if being one of just two teams without a win.
Shurmur won't say he feels betrayed, but it sure seems that wa